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GMC may appeal against too-lenient tribunal decisions

Parliament approves changes that could see tribunals award costs against GMC or doctors

Louise Prime

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The General Medical Council will now have the legal right to appeal against fitness to practise decisions that it considers too lenient and that fail to protect the public, following legislative changes to the Medical Act that have been approved in Parliament. It has welcomed the changes, which it said will allow investigations into complaints against doctors to be more streamlined, with faster, fairer and more efficient procedures.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), which runs the tribunals and is separate from the GMC, will now be placed on a statutory footing as a result of the changes to the law.

Another effect of the legislative changes is to enable several reforms to the way in which complaints against doctors are handled. For example, cases will be prepared and managed in a more streamlined fashion, which will in turn speed up tribunal hearings and make them more effective; there will be legally qualified chairs for some tribunals; and tribunals will have the power to award costs against the GMC – or the doctor – if either has failed to comply with directions or has behaved unreasonably.

The GMC yesterday launched a consultation on the new and amended rules that will be needed in order to implement the changes to the law. This will run until 20 May. The results will be published this summer, then presented to Parliament for approval.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “The new right of appeal and the establishment of the MPTS as a statutory body are major reforms in UK professional regulation. They will reinforce our separation from the tribunal service and our role as a patient safety organisation which brings the most serious cases to the tribunal service for adjudication. These changes will also help us streamline our investigations, reduce the time it takes to deal with complaints and make our procedures faster, fairer and more efficient.”

He welcomed this ‘important step forward’, but argued that fundamental reform is still needed. He said: “The law that governs the regulation of healthcare professionals is outdated and change is overdue. The draft Bill produced for the government by the Law Commissions of the UK would allow us to be more responsive and better serve the needs of patients and support improvements in medical practice. We hope this change in the law will be introduced as soon as possible after the General Election.”

The chair of the MPTS, His Honour David Pearl, added: “The changes we are proposing will strengthen our pre-hearing case management, meaning less time is lost in hearings to legal argument.

“This is the next step in creating a modern and efficient tribunal service for the medical profession, operationally separate from the GMC’s role in investigating complaints.”

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